While it is undoubtedly true that more than a few fans came to Wes Montgomery through his unabashed pop oriented recordings like "California Dreaming" and his best selling jazz take on the Beatles, "A Day in the Life" (both of which lie in a box in one of my closets), it is also true that he had more than demonstrated his classical jazz chops well before those albums. The recordings prior to the late-'60s might not have had the same popular success, but artistically, it was another story. Indeed, for many jazz purists at the time, it was the earlier Montgomery that was the great Montgomery, and the guy covering the Beatles something of a sellout.
Opinions change and the later work has justifiably gained in reputation over the years, but not at the expense of the earlier work. There are very few who do not acknowledge the excellence of that early work, and the new collection of some of that work in The Very Best of Wes Montgomery demonstrates why. Drawn from eight albums the guitarist recorded on the Riverside label from 1959 through 1963, it offers a sampling of Montgomery's playing that more than likely would have established his all-star credentials had he never come near the Mamas and the Papas.
The earliest tune on the new release is a 1959 recording of Monk's "'Round Midnight" from The Wes Montgomery Trio. Montgomery combines with organist Melvin Rhyme and drummer Paul Parker for a soulful take on the classic. The latest are the '63 Latino beat recordings of "Besame Mucho" and a very original "Canadian Sunset" from Boss Guitar. Again he is joined by Rhyme on the Hammond B-3 while Jimmy Cobb takes over the drums. Both show the guitarist at the top of his game.